How to access therapy during the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown

The coronavirus pandemic is prompting an increase in stress and anxiety, both with those who have diagnosed mental health conditions and those without.

Research suggests that life in lockdown could have a ‘devastating impact’ on our mental wellbeing, with experts predicting a mental health crisis will follow the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is why therapy – whether continuing treatment or contacting a therapist for the first time – is so important right now.

How can you access therapy amid the coronavirus pandemic?

Unfortunately, even with the pandemic, the NHS still has waiting lists for mental health support, and you might struggle to be put on it while appointments are being cancelled and GPs are taking telephone consultations instead of in-real-life appointments.

That being said, waiting lists for online therapy and phone session can often be shorter than for in-person therapy. It’s definitely worth checking in with your GP to see what the options are in your local area.

But if you can afford it, searching for a private therapist can be a quicker option.

The best way to go about searching for a therapist is by doing it online. Sites such as Counselling Directory and Psychology Today will have lists of therapists near you. This is perfect for if you’re looking for a therapist long-term, who you’d like to see in real life when lockdown rules relax and sessions can take place again. These sites also allow therapists to offer their rates, so you can get an idea of your budget before getting in contact.

If you’re only looking for a therapist while you’re stuck at home, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, so you’ll have a lot more options and you’ll may find it easier to find a therapist who suits your budget.

James Hartley, a BACP registered counsellor, tells that if you are struggling financially, you may be able to find a therapist who will cater to your budget.

He said: ‘Therapists pre-coronavirus have generally been good at offering concessions to those who cannot afford therapy or are in very precarious situations and this is still the case.

‘When you search for a therapist it will say on their profile their prices and whether they offer concessions or not, and I encourage everyone seeking therapy to ask if this is the case.

‘An additional note is that therapy can often be split over two weeks rather than weekly sessions which can ease the financial burden of therapy in times like these.

‘That being said, therapists are themselves self-employed and are currently facing the same precarity as everyone else. Referral numbers have plummeted with the pandemic across the private and public sector which means there are fewer people seeking support and whilst some private therapists have the financial stability to be able to offer much cheaper therapy, others do not.

‘Therapy can often be seen as an indulgence, however, people who have the financial capacity to access private therapy should feel inspired to do so because they are not only investing in their own happiness but, they are also enabling a person who is helping them to carry on helping others, not to mention, also not taking up the very precious space in free NHS services so that those less fortunate can also be helped quickly.’

How will your virtual therapy differ from face-to-face sessions?

James said you should be given the option to have your sessions by either video or phone call, and you shouldn’t be pressured into doing one or the other.

He adds that it may feel a little ‘odd’ to be talking to a therapist on the phone, explaining: ‘This is completely normal, just like it’s normal to feel anxious at the start of face-to-face therapy.

‘All therapy comes with feelings of being exposed and vulnerable, however, people often report that over time this gets better and in the case of telephone therapy, for example, it gives the unexpected benefit of a sense of security by more anonymity, helping you feel safe enough to talk about your difficulties.

‘The main difference of telephone and video therapy is that it will be currently in your own home and this poses challenges. For example, confidentiality.

‘Often people need to talk about the difficulties at home, yet are stuck in the very place where problems are arising and may not feel comfortable. So arranging sessions when you may be able to have privacy is important.

‘Also, setting clear boundaries with family members to ensure you are not intruded upon and have a quiet safe space to speak openly.

‘Technology is also a challenge. Your therapist should ensure that you have a backup plan should a computer or telephone fail or your wifi connection be poor.’

Will you be able to have social distanced sessions during lockdown?

Currently, professional therapists are not offering physical, face-to-face sessions, because it is not sufficiently safe to do so.

However, this is expected to change quickly as businesses begin to reopen, and according to James, many therapists are eager for this to happen.

If this does happen, it’s important to make your own risk assessments. If you’re high risk and have been told to stay home, you should stick with the virtual sessions.

It’s also important to not attend any sessions in person if you have coronavirus symptoms.

How quickly can you get help from the NHS during this time?

You firstly need to speak to your GP for them to make a referral for the type of help you need. This can be a lengthy process as you first need to wait for an appointment, and then be put on the waiting list – it can then take weeks to months to years to make it to the top.

James explained: ‘Waiting times vary in each area of the country with NHS and NHS commissioned services – to find this out all you need to do is give them a call. However, it is not unrealistic to expect to wait from six weeks to over a year for some therapies in NHS and NHS commissioned services.

‘Waiting times have long been an issue due to the dissolving of social services in communities over the past decade, which has caused those who would normally be supported in the community to become dependent on the one NHS psychological service in their area, which is underfunded, i.e. understaffed to then be able to meet the real need of suffering in society.

‘With regards to private therapy, there is little to no waiting time and you could expect some therapists to offer you an appointment the same or following week you enquire.’

If you find yourself really struggling and are in crisis, the best thing you can do is to go to A&E to be assessed by the on-duty mental health team in your area.

How accessible are virtual therapy appointments right now?

Private therapy is very accessible, with little to no waiting time, more flexibility, and more freedom to decide the course of therapy.

But, of course, it costs money – which many people simply can’t afford.

James tells us: ‘My private clients have found sessions to be very helpful and whilst we may be physically separated, my clients also report that we are able to make real changes in their lives, and still feel the meaningful therapeutic connection which is inherent to good therapy; they feel genuinely cared for, valued and understood.

‘All these benefits are equally possible for therapy in the NHS. However, waiting times are obviously an issue with regards to access.

‘Therapy in the NHS is sadly also bound to organisational targets and performance, therefore, is time and choice limited, meaning the number of sessions, type and method of delivery of therapy are choices out of the client’s control.’

James adds that if it is a choice between funding your own therapy and feeding your children, the best thing you can do is call your GP and get on a waiting list.

In the meantime, GPs are currently able to prescribe medication over the phone, offering a same-day prescription, so if you would find medication for your mental health beneficial right now, it’s one step you can take while you wait for therapy.

But you absolutely should do your research around private therapists – many have different budgets and some therapists work for as little as £30 an hour.

You should also be completely honest with them about your budget, as some therapists may also offer two sessions for the price of one or tweak the cost to make it easier for you.

James continued: ‘If you have the financial capacity and safety at home to access private therapy then don’t wait.

‘Coronavirus is a scary time but its intensity is providing us all with a chance to reflect upon the way we live our lives and what we value as important.

‘Counselling and psychotherapy is the perfect tool to not only help and navigate distress, but it can help a person realise their ambitions.

‘We need to get out of the mindset that therapy is an indulgence and see it as an essential part of living well that pays back in the long run – just like having a personal trainer, eating healthily, putting your car in for a service or going to the dentist.’

To talk about mental health in a private, judgement-free zone, join our Mentally Yours Facebook group.

Our Mentally Yours podcast is chatting through mental health amid the coronavirus pandemic with special dedicated episodes. You can listen on Spotify, Audioboom, and iTunes.

Need support? Contact the Samaritans

For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing [email protected].

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